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LaunchCode’s new mission tackles opportunities behind bars

LaunchCode has been an innovator in the St. Louis region giving nontraditional students the opportunity to learn to code, and with those skills have changed the lives of now hundreds of graduates. They have now focused on a new group to change the trajectory of lives, those in prison.

In a collaboration between Missouri Eastern Correctional Center and nonprofit LaunchCode, 17 students participated in MECC’s first JustTech graduation March 16.

“We’re focused on equipping currently incarcerated folks with the tech skills and workforce skills that they need to be successful upon release,” said Haley Shoaf, vice president of LaunchCode’s Justice Program in St. Louis. While she’s held this current position for over a year, she’s been an integral part of the JustTech for over seven years. 

Why it’s important: This program will advance those without traditional credentials, giving them tools to further their education, opening the door to transforming the tech industry, and improving life for inmates once they are rehabilitated into society.*

‍1. Employment Stigmatism

Upon release, formerly incarcerated individuals many times face the same joblessness and poverty that they experienced before their sentencing. With over 33 percent being unable to find employment after over four years post-release, this problem affects numerous communities across the U.S. 

LaunchCode’s program puts them in a fast-growing industry with a lot of opportunities, which equips them with marketable skills that can be the difference between finding success and returning behind bars. 

  • Example: the formerly incarcerated earnings were far below the general population, at just 53 percent of a median U.S. Worker’s wages. To put this more into perspective, they were making just 84 cents to every dollar ($28,851 annually). Tech salaries, on the other hand, are seeing their best year yet. With some tech professionals seeing a pay increase of over 21.3 percent in one year, this is one of the most rewarding career fields of our time. Launch Code can not only bring transformative, life changing opportunities to those whose stories seem to be fully written, but can also break down barriers within the tech world when it comes to those who have a preconceived notion on the face of tech. This includes tech companies themselves. 

In addition, computer programming education can address some of the “last mile” challenges 

  • ‍LaunchCode brings people from all backgrounds into the tech field and reshapes the way employers think about hiring.‍

What this means: Whether a formerly incarcerated person, or a student located in a remote area or a densely packed community, tech education can support equal access to fulfilling careers.

2. Importance of the graduation ceremonies

Celebrations reflect on what has been in the past in order to envision what might be in the future. 

The idea: “The ceremony marked the end of our first cohort at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, and it was just a really important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of the graduates and mark this milestone for all the work they’ve put in,” said Shoaf. 

The celebration marked the end of their training, and the first phase of their tech journey. The celebration was not only for them, but all those involved that gave support and encouragement all the way to these graduate’s ceremony day.

According to Shoaf, “all of the people that made this work possible,” were in attendance. Friends, family, volunteers, and community members were able to join graduates on this special day. Along with them, LaunchCode and correctional center staff joined the celebration. Many will look past the ceremony and not see the significance of it, not realizing formerly incarcerated people are twice as likely to have no high school credential at all.

  • Access to education is a critical part of employment retention after being released from incarceration.
  • The chance for exploitation of formerly incarcerated people is high, as many end up in fields such as waste management services, construction, and food service. This leaves them in “low wage job cycles”, and leaves many taking jobs that workers refuse due to demands of decent pay and benefits.

What this means: Instead of entering another low-wage job cycle, Launch Code can provide a unified front for its tech graduates to connect with upwardly mobile careers and provide them with skills they can build upon.

  • Through their program, LaunchCode ensures that tech companies have ‘tech talent’ to meet the industry’s growing demands, and that graduates can enter the workforce with confidence that they and their fellow tech workers are making a difference in today’s world. All while beginning a new chapter in their story. 

The takeaway: LaunchCode brings the benefits of quality education to those from all walks of life through a free and accessible program. These graduates not only leave the program with new skills they can use in the tech world, but a memorable once-in-a-lifetime experience that changes our world for the better one graduate at a time.